RECENTLY, the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board launched an FIR against a 31-year-old man from Mansehra for attempting to sell a common leopard’s hide on the internet. Under the Islamabad Wildlife Protection Act, 1979, the hunting, selling and trade of the endangered animal, its skin or any body part, is illegal. Yet such trade continues unabated, and live animals, and their parts and derivatives, can easily be found in marketplaces across the country. When the WWF carried out an extensive study to assess the scale of the wildlife trade in Pakistan recently, they found the practice rampant in local markets, while also noting the international demand for such products. The internet and the presence of the dark web has also exacerbated the problem and presented new challenges for authorities to grapple with.
In this most recent incident, during an undercover operation, several common leopard and leopard cat hides were discovered at a house in Ughi, which is worrying given the animals’ diminishing numbers in the wild. In recent years, illegal hunting for their body parts has drastically reduced the leopard population in the northern parts of the country. Cubs are also kidnapped from their mothers to be sold into the illegal wildlife trade. In addition, the high rate of deforestation has led to the destruction of the habitat of many animals, including the leopard’s prey, which leads them to search for other forms of sustenance away from their natural habitats. Besides this, climate change and unprecedented weather patterns have led leopards to stray into human territory, while protected forests and national parks are intruded upon, resulting in increasing tension between the leopard and the local populations, and less sympathy for them being hunted down. To put an end to the illegal trade, the WWF has listed a number of recommendations, which include: developing an effective database for monitoring purposes, banning websites and social media sites that engage in the practice, and altering consumer behaviour and demand through mass awareness campaigns.
THE gaps in the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, most recently amended in 2018, often pose challenges for the legal system. On Friday, a seven-member Supreme Court bench pronounced its judgement on some of the ambiguities arising from the legislation, with a focus on situations when non-compoundable offences under the ATA are committed in tandem with offences tried under the Pakistan Penal Code. Various aspects of the issue have been addressed in different verdicts, but the consolidated ruling by a larger bench of the apex court should suffice to settle it once and for all. The 27-page judgement authored by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa holds that terrorism offences remain non-compoundable even if the aggrieved party pardons the perpetrator for compoundable crimes simultaneously committed during the act of terrorism. However, according to the ruling, in case of such a pardon, the relevant court has the discretionary power to reduce the sentence awarded for the non-compoundable offence. Furthermore, in case the convict is pardoned by the aggrieved party after the filing of a first, unsuccessful mercy petition before the president, an individual sentenced under the ATA would be able to file a second mercy petition.
Aside from laying down procedural guidelines in trials conducted by the anti-terrorism courts, the Supreme Court verdict may have the salutary effect of reducing the number of death sentences handed down for non-compoundable offences. According to the Justice Project Pakistan, the liberal use of capital punishment in this country accounts for 26pc of the world’s death row population and 13pc of global executions. A 2014 study by JPP and Reprieve, another non-profit fighting against the death penalty, found that of the 800 prisoners on death row who had been convicted under the ATA, in nearly 88pc of the cases “there was no link to anything reasonably defined as ‘terrorism’”.
This state of affairs is closely linked with a fundamental flaw of the ATA, which is its overly broad definition of terrorist acts. No less than 18 crimes — including extortion and kidnapping for ransom — are listed as falling within the scope of the legislation, whose preamble states it is meant to “provide for the prevention of terrorism, sectarian violence and for speedy trial of heinous offences”. The result is a blurring of lines between acts of violence driven by ideological or political motives — the generally accepted criteria for defining terrorism — and ordinary, even serious, crimes that spring from a personal desire for vengeance or profit. While some judges have cautioned against charges under the ATA being indiscriminately filed in criminal cases, others have been less particular about what constitutes “heinous offences”. The ATA should have facilitated the swift disposal of terrorism cases. Instead, the ATCs are clogged with cases that cannot be defined as terrorism at all. It is high time for clarity on this score as well.
IF the Turkish incursion into northern Syria launched last week is not contained soon, it may well evolve into a fully fledged new war drawing combatants from across the region. Ankara launched what it calls Operation Peace Spring with multiple objectives, primarily to create a ‘safe zone’ inside Syria to which it can repatriate millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey, as well as combating the semi-autonomous Syrian Kurds it looks upon as ‘terrorists’. However, far from creating an atmosphere of peace, the offensive is likely to fan the flames of war, while violating the territory of a sovereign state. Both sides — the Turks and the Syrian Kurds — have accused each other of targeting civilians, while there has been fierce fighting in the region concerned. Ostensibly, it was a green light from Washington that allowed Ankara to make the move; in the process America’s Kurdish allies were left by the wayside to fend for themselves and ward off the Turkish military. Moreover, the Turkish offensive was launched without the approval of Damascus, which throws up questions about its legitimacy in terms of international law.
Before this latest flare-up, all indications were that the situation in Syria was returning to normalcy, with a UN-backed committee consisting of the Syrian government and opposition factions planning to hammer out a new constitution. However, with the latest developments, the viability of this process is thrown into doubt. And perhaps the most dangerous fallout of chaos in northern Syria remains the fact that thousands of IS prisoners — militants and their families — guarded by the Kurds may escape from internment centres. Already a few IS prisoners have reportedly made a jailbreak. It should be remembered that the IS threat was neutralised after a major international effort; if an irresponsible military operation allows the fighters of the ‘caliphate’ to regroup, the security of the entire region will be compromised. There is still time for Ankara to pull back from the brink; its legitimate concerns — refugees, terrorism, etc — must be discussed within the framework of international law, and with the Syrian state on board. A cavalier military incursion is likely to create more problems than it solves. As for the Kurds and others in the region who depend on an American security umbrella, this should serve as a cautionary lesson. Where the Trump White House is concerned, policy can change within minutes and be announced via Twitter, in complete disregard of saner counsel.